Odds are, at some point in your life you’ve taken a picture in a photo booth. The odds probably increase the older you are - they were, after all, quite the rage back in the fifties and sixties.
If you have taken a picture in a photo booth, odds are also fairly good that you’ve done something naughty for the camera, whether it’s stick your tongue out or flip the bird. Many, many people have gone a step further, either by flashing the camera or performing an illicit act with another person.
Why? Well, there’s something about the photo booth that brings out the inner exhibitionist in all of us. Even in an age where every cellphone has a camera, the photo booth provides a quiet, discreet means to record ourselves doing whatever we want. And because the photos are printed instantly with no copies kept, it’s a very private act.
In fact, director Brett Ratner - of Rush Hour fame, and also of the ruining-the-Xmen-franchise fame with the atrocity that was Xmen 3 - in 2003 published a book of pictures he had taken of his celebrity friends with a photo booth he’d installed in his house. What did all those celebrities do for the camera when left to their own devices? “There were a lot of middle fingers, a lot of people with their tongues out,” Ratner said. “There was also a lot of flashing, although I didn’t publish those.”
These days, photo booths are almost obsolete because you can replicate everything they do with your home computer. But in the days before ubiquitous digital camera technology, they were pretty much the only way to take a photograph without having someone else see it (the Polaroid would have been the other way).
In a less sexually-liberated age, if you took a picture of someone in the nude and tried to have it developed at the local photo mart, you could get arrested. The photo booth provided a means to take such pictures without running the risk of getting charged for obscenity. Booth manufacturers knew this and encouraged it. One American maker, Auto Photo, gave out pamphlets at a fifties imaging convention that showed a women exposing herself, with the caption, “Make sure he remembers you! Send a foto to your boyfriend.”
This actually became an issue for some people. Woolworths started getting complaints that there was too much whoopie going on its photo booths, so the department store decided to remove the curtains from them. I’m sure the booths were used considerably less after that happened.